The Linear Pottery culture is a major archaeological horizon of the European Neolithic, flourishing ca. 5500–4500 BC. The heaviest concentrations are on the middle Danube, the upper and middle Elbe, and the upper and middle Rhine. The culture represents a major impulse if not the advent of agriculture into this part of the world. The pottery after which it was named consists of simple cups, bowls, vases and jugs, without handles, but in a later phase with lugs or pierced lugs, bases and necks. They were obviously designed as kitchen dishes, or for the immediate or local transport of food and liquids.
Important sites include Nitra in Slovakia; Bylany in the Czech Republic; Langweiler and Zwenkau in Germany; Brunn am Gebirge in Austria; Elsloo, Sittard, Köln-Lindenthal, Aldenhoven, Flomborn and Rixheim on the Rhine; Lautereck and Hienheim on the upper Danube; Rössen and Sonderhausen on the middle Elbe.
Two variants of the early Linear Pottery Culture are recognized:
Middle and late phases are also defined. In the middle phase, the Early Linear Pottery Culture intruded upon the Bug-Dniester culture and began to manufacture Musical Note Pottery. In the late phase, the Stroked Pottery Culture moved down the Vistula and Elbe.
A number of cultures ultimately replaced the Linear Pottery culture over its range, but there is no one-to-one correspondence between its variants and the replacing cultures. The culture map instead is complex. Some of the successor cultures are the Hinkelstein, Großgartach, Rössen, Lengyel, Cucuteni, and Boian-Maritza.
|"Because of the sharply observed present political boundaries, the terminology applied to the various cultures and groups has become needlessly complicated. Thus, in different countries the same culture complex may carry completely different names based on different eponymous sites, or may have the same basic name modified by regional or language variants. For example, Yugoslavian Starčevo is the general equivalent of Hungarian Körös and Rumanian Criş."—Robert Ehrich|
The term, Linear Band Ware, is a mnemonic of the pottery's decorative technique. The "Band Ware" or Bandkeramik part of it began as an innovation of the German archaeologist, Friedrich Klopfleisch (1831–1898). The earliest generally accepted name in English was the Danubian of V. Gordon Childe. Currently most names are attempts to translate Linearbandkeramik into good English.
Since Starčevo-Körös pottery was earlier than the LBK and was located in a contiguous food-producing region, the early investigators looked for precedents there. Much of the Starčevo-Körös pottery features decorative patterns composed of convolute bands of paint: spirals, converging bands, vertical bands, and so on. The LBK appears to imitate and often improve these convolutions with incised lines; hence the term, linear, to distinguish painted band ware from incised band ware.
The name depends on specialized meanings of "linear" and "band", whether in English or in German. These words without the qualifiers do not describe the decoration. There are few bands going around the pottery and the lines are mainly not straight. Patterns are repeated motifs: spirals, rectangles, triangles, chevrons. For the most part they are not placed within bands, but rather, the entire surface of the pot is the artist's field.
In addition to the names listed above are local or period-specific names, which refer to some phase or style within the Linear Pottery Culture. Agreement does not always exist concerning whether a local style is to be included as linear.
The LBK did not begin with this range and only reached it toward the end of its time. It began in regions of densest occupation on the middle Danube (Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary) and spread over about 1500 km along the rivers in 360 years. The rate of expansion was therefore about 4 km per year, which can hardly be called an invasion or a wave by the standard of current events, but over archaeological time seems especially rapid.
The LBK was concentrated somewhat inland from the coastal areas; i.e., it is not evidenced in Denmark or the northern coastal strips of Germany and Poland, or the coast of the Black Sea in Romania. The northern coastal regions remained occupied by Mesolithic cultures exploiting the then fabulously rich Atlantic salmon runs. There are lighter concentrations of LBK in the low countries, such as at Elsloo, and at the mouths of the Oder and Vistula. Evidently, the Neolithics and Mesolithics were not excluding each other.
The LBK at maximum extent ranged from about the line of the Seine–Oise (Paris Basin) eastward to the line of the Vistula and upper Dniester, and southward to the line of the upper Danube down to the big bend. An extension ran through the Western Bug river valley, leaped to the valley of the Dniester, and swerved southward from the middle Dniester to the lower Danube in eastern Romania, east of the Carpathians
Data continues to be acquired and therefore any one analysis should be taken as a rough guideline only. Overall it is probably safe to say that the Linear Pottery culture spanned several hundred years of continental European prehistory in the late 6th and early 5th millennia BC, with local variations. Data from Belgium indicates a late survival of LBK there, as late as 4100 BC.
The Linear Pottery Culture is not the only food-producing player on the stage of prehistoric Europe. It has been necessary therefore to distinguish between it and the Neolithic, which was most easily done by dividing the Neolithic of Europe into chronological phases. These have varied a great deal. An approximation is as follows:
The last phase is no longer the end of the Neolithic. A Final Neolithic has been added to the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. All numbers depend to some extent on the geographic region.
The pottery styles of the LBK allow some division of its window in time. Conceptual schemes have varied somewhat. One is as follows:
A site at Brunn am Gebirge just south of Vienna seems to document the transition to LBK. The site was densely settled in a long house pattern approximately 5550–5200. The lower layers feature Starčevo-type plain pottery, with large number of stone tools made of material from near Lake Balaton, Hungary. Over the time frame, LBK pottery and animal husbandry increased, while the use of stone tools decreased.
A second theory proposes an autochthonous development out of the local Mesolithic cultures. Although the Starčevo-Körös entered southern Hungary at about 6000 and the LBK spread very rapidly there appears to be a hiatus of up to 500 years in which a barrier seems to have been in effect. Moreover, the cultivated species of the near and middle eastern Neolithic do not do well over the Linear Pottery Culture range. And finally, the Mesolithics in the region prior to the LBK used some domestic species, such as Triticum and flax. The La Hoguette Culture on the northwest of the LBK range developed their own food production from native plants and animals.
A third theory attributes the start of Linear Pottery to an influence from the Mesolithic cultures of the east European plain. Pottery began with the Jomon Culture of Japan at about 11,000 BC. The habit of innovating pottery spread through Siberia to the east European plain by 7000 BC. The pottery was used in intensive food gathering.
The rate at which it spread was no faster than the spread of the Neolithic in general. Accordingly Dolukhanov and others postulate that an impulse from the steppe to the southeast of the barrier stimulated the Mesolithics north of it to innovate their own pottery. This view only accounts for the pottery; presumably, the Mesolithics combined it de novo with local food production, which began to spread very rapidly throughout a range that was already producing some food.
The barrier causing the hiatus mentioned above does not have an immediate geographical cause. The Körös Culture ended in the middle of the Hungarian plain and although the climate to the north is colder the gradient is not so sharp as to form a barrier there. It may have been one of language and ethnic loyalty.
The Mesolithic population of Europe was by no means physically homogeneous. In it were pockets of physical types called "local European" or "Cro-magnon (B)" by Gimbutas, meaning not the exact type of the ancestral Cro-Magnon man of the upper Palaeolithic who lived in the region previously but a similar remnant population surviving in less accessible pockets, having distinct physical characteristics and often associated with distinct cultures.
North of the Körös was such a population. Zoffman in a recent statistical analysis of 120 sample series from remains in the entire Carpathian Basin covering several thousand years calls this proto-Linear-Pottery-Culture population a "Protonordic-Cro-Magnoid type." Its relationship to the nordics is another topic, but she uses the variables of anthropometry, which she calls "taxonomic data", to compare the populations in the basin. She calculates the Penrose distance between populations to determine whether they can be identified with or are remote from each other.
The "Protonordic-Cro-Magnoids" turn out to be different from the "gracile Mediterraneans" of the Körös and from any of the surrounding populations: the central European, Bohemian and German, confirming that in fact they were a large pocket. The author admits that the result might be influenced by sampling error. Ostensibly the study shows that the Linear Pottery Culture was not transmitted via major population movements.
Recent mtDNA studies on 24 LBK individuals at 16 locations in Germany, Austria and Hungary by a team of scientists found that six individuals owned a rare suite of mutations labeled N1a, a percentage much greater than in the modern population. The investigators concluded, "Our finding lends weight to a proposed Paleolithic ancestry for modern Europeans."
The study is not conclusive. The modern population might be the Neolithic and the owners of N1a a palaeolithic remnant. However the conclusion seems to fit the anthropometric work of Zoffman: as there were no large-scale transfers of population, the culture could have been carried by small numbers of the population with the rare mutation. It disappears by the late LBK; that is to say, the whole population was genetically overwhelmed by immigrants.
The end of the early phase can be dated to its arrival in the Netherlands at about 5200 BC. The population there was already food-producing to some extent. The early phase went on there but meanwhile the Music-Note Pottery (Notenkopfkeramik) phase of the Middle Linear Band Pottery Culture appeared in Austria at about 5200 and moved eastward into Romania and the Ukraine. The late phase, or Stroked pottery Culture (Stichbandkeramik or SBK, 5000–4500) evolved in central Europe and went eastward.
This article includes a brief introduction to some of the features of the Western Linear Pottery Culture below.
The Eastern Linear Pottery Culture developed in eastern Hungary roughly contemporaneously with, perhaps a few hundred years after, the transdanubian. The great plain there (Hungarian Alföld) had been occupied by the Starčevo-Körös-Criş Culture of "gracile Mediterraneans" from the Balkans as early as 6100 BC. Hertelendi and others give a reevaluated date range of 5860–5330 for the Early Neolithic, 5950–5400 for the Körös. The Körös Culture went as far north as the edge of the upper Tisza and stopped. North of it the Alföld plain and the Bükk Mountains were intensively occupied by Mesolithics thriving on the flint tool trade.
At around 5330 the classical Alföld Culture of the LBK appeared to the north of the Körös Culture and flourished until about 4940. This time also is the Middle Neolithic. The Alföld Culture has been abbreviated ALV from its Hungarian name, Alföldi Vonaldíszes Kerámia, or ALP for Alföld Linear Pottery Culture, the earliest variant of the Eastern Linear Pottery Culture.
In one view the AVK came "directly out of" the Körös. The brief, short-ranged Szatmár Group on the northern edge of the Körös Culture seems transitional. Some place it with the Körös, some with the AVK. The latter's pottery is decorated with white painted bands with incised edges. Körös pottery was painted.
As is presented above, however, there were no major population movements across the border. The Körös went on into a late phase in its accustomed place, 5770–5230. The late Körös is also called the Proto-Vinča, which was succeeded by the Vinča-Tordo, 5390–4960. There is no necessity to view the Körös and the AVK as closely connected. The AVK economy is somewhat different: it uses cattle and swine, both of which occur wild in the region, instead of the sheep of the Balkans and Mediterranean. The percentage of wild animal bones is greater. Barley, millet and lentils were added.
Around 5100 or so towards the end of the Middle Neolithic the classical AVK descended into a complex of pronounced local groups called the Szakálhát-Esztár-Bükk, which flourished about 5260-4880:
These are all characterized by finely crafted and decorated ware. The entire group is considered by the majority of the sources listed in this article to have been in the LBK. Before the chronology and many of the sites were known the Bükk was thought to be a major variant; in fact, Gimbutas at one point believed it to be identical with the Eastern Linear Pottery Culture. Since 1991 the predominance of the Alföld has come to light.
The end of the Eastern Linear Pottery Culture and the LBK is less certain. The Szakálhát-Esztár-Bükk descended into another Late Neolithic legacy complex, the Tisza-Hérpály-Csöszhalom, which is either not LBK or is transitional from the LBK to the Tiszapolgar, a successor culture.
The LBK people settled on fluvial terraces and in the proximities of rivers. They were quick to identify regions of fertile loess. On it they raised a distinctive assemblage of crops and associated weeds in small plots, an economy that Gimbutas called a "garden type of civilization. The difference between a crop and a weed in LBK contexts is the frequency. Crop foods are:
Species that are found so rarely as to warrant classification as possible weeds are:
The emmer and the einkorn were sometimes grown as maslin, or mixed crops. The lower-yield einkorn predominates over emmer, which has been attributed to its better resistance to heavy rain. Hemp and flax (Linum usitatissimum) gave the LBK people the raw material of rope and cloth, which they no doubt manufactured at home as a cottage industry. From poppies (Papaver somniferum), introduced later from the Mediterranean, they must have manufactured palliative medicine.
The LBK people were stock raisers as well, with cattle favored, though goats and swine are also recorded. Like farmers today, they must have used the better grain for themselves and the lower grades for the animals. The ubiquitous dogs are present here too, but scantly. Substantial wild faunal remains are found. The LBK supplemented their diets by hunting elk, deer and boar in the open forests of Europe as it was then.
Although no significant population transfers were associated with the start of the LBK, population diffusion along the wetlands of the mature civilization (about 5200 BC) had leveled the high percentage of the rare gene sequence mentioned above by the late LBK. The population was much greater by then, a phenomenon termed the Neolithic Demographic Transition (NDT). According to Bocquet-Appel beginning from a stable population of "small connected groups exchanging migrants" among the "hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists" the LBK experienced an increase in birth rate caused by a "reduction in the length of the birth interval." The author hypothesizes a decrease in the weaning period made possible by division of labor. At the end of the LBK the NDT was over and the population growth disappeared due to an increase in the mortality rate, caused, the author speculates, by new pathogens passed along by increased social contact.
The new population was sedentary up to the capacity of the land, and then the excess population moved to less inhabited land. An in-depth GIS study by Ebersbach and Schade of an 18 km² region in the wetlands region of Wetterau, Hesse, traces the land use in detail and discovers the limiting factor. In the study region 82% of the land is suitable for agriculture, 11% for grazing (even though wetland) and 7% steep slopes. The investigators found that the LBK occupied this land for about 400 years. They began with 14 settlements, 53 houses, 318 people using the wetlands for cattle pasture. Settlement gradually spread over the wetlands, reaching a maximum of 47 settlements, 122 houses, 732 people in the late period. At that time all the available grazing land was in use.
Toward the end, the population suddenly dropped to initial levels, even though much of the arable land was still available. The investigators conclude that cattle were the main economic interest and available grazing land was the limiting factor in settlement. The Neolithic of the Middle East featured urban concentrations of people subsisting mainly on grain. Beef and dairy products on the other hand were the mainstay of LBK diet. When the grazing lands were all in use they moved elsewhere in search of them. As the relatively brief window of the LBK falls roughly in the center of the Atlantic climate period, a maximum of temperature and rainfall, a conclusion that the spread of wetlands at that time encouraged the growth and spreading of the LBK is to some degree justified.
These materials are evidence both of specialization of labor and commerce. The flint used came from southern Poland; the obsidian, from the Bükk and Tatra mountains. Settlements in those regions specialized in mining and manufacture. The products were exported to all the other LBK regions, which must have had something to trade. This commerce is a strong argument for an ethnic unity between the scattered pockets of the culture.
At least part of the house may have been used for animals, as a fenced enclosure adjoined one end. Ditches went along part of the outer walls, especially at the enclosed end. Their purpose is not known, but they probably are not defensive works, as they were not much of a defense. More likely, the ditches collected waste water and rain water. A large house with many people and animals would have had to have a drainage system. One can conceive of a smelly end, where the animals and latrines were located, and a domestic end.
Easy access to fresh water also would have been mandatory, which is another reason why settlements were in bottom lands near water. A number of wells from the times have been discovered, with a log-cabin type lining constructed one layer at a time as the previous layers sank into the well.
Internally the house had one or two partitions creating up to three areas. Interpretations of the use of these areas varies; perhaps sleeping, common and animals. Trash was regularly removed and placed in external pits. The waste-producing work, such as hide preparation and flint-working, was done outside the house. The main door was located at the opposite end from the sleeping quarters.
Long houses were gathered into villages of 5–8 about 20 m apart, placed on 300–1250 acres. Nearby villages formed settlement cells, some as dense as 20 per 25 km², others as sparse as 1 per 32 km². This structuring of settlements does not support a view that the LBK population had no social structure, or was anarchic. On the other hand the structure remains obscure and interpretational. One long house may have supported one extended family; however, the short lifespan would have precluded more than two generations. The houses required too much labor to be the residences of single families; consequently, communal houses are postulated. Though the known facts are tantalizing, the correct social interpretation of the layout of a long house and the arrangement of villages will have to wait for clearer evidence.
At least some villages were fortified for some time with a palisade and outer ditch. An earlier view saw the Linear Pottery Culture as living a "peaceful, unfortified lifestyle. Since then settlements with palisades and weapon-traumatized bones have been discovered, such as at Herxheim, which, whether the site of a massacre or of a martial ritual, demonstrates "...systematic violence between groups." Most of the known settlements, however, left no trace of violence.
Pottery has been found in long houses as well as in graves. Analysis of the home pottery reveals that each house had its own tradition. The occurrence of pottery primarily in female graves indicates that the women of the long house probably made the pottery; in fact lineages have been defined. Gimbutas goes so far as to assert: "The indirect results indicate an endogamous, matrilocal residence.
The mother goddess model is the major one that applies to the Neolithic of the middle and near east, the civilization of the Aegean and Europe. The iconography was inherited from the Palaeolithic. The Gravettian Culture introduced it into the range of the future LBK from western Asia and south Russia. From there it diffused throughout Europe in the Upper Palaeolithic, which was inhabited by Cro-magnon man and was responsible for many works of art, such as the Venus of Willendorf.
With the transition to the Neolithic, "... the female principle continued to predominate the cultures that had grown up around the mysterious processes of birth and generation. The LBK therefore did not bring anything new spiritually to Europe, nor was the cult in any way localized to Europe. It is reflected in the vase paintings, figurines, graves and grave goods and surviving customs and myths of Europe. In the north the goddess could manifest herself as the mistress of animals, grain, distaff and loom, household and life and death.
The works of the noted late archaeologist Marija Gimbutas present a major study of the iconography and surviving beliefs of the European Neolithic, including the Linear Pottery Culture. She was able to trace the unity of reproductive themes in cultural objects previously unsuspected of such themes. For example, the burial pits of the Linear Pottery culture, which were lined with stone, clay or plaster, may have been intended to represent eggs. The deceased returns to the egg, so to speak, there to await rebirth.
The presence of such pits contemporaneously with the burial of women and children under the floors of houses suggests a multiplicity of religious convictions, as does the use of both cremation and inhumation. Some of the figurines are not of females but are androgynous. Perhaps the beliefs of Europeans of any culture always were complex.
Burials beneath the floors of homes continued until about 4000 BC. However, in the Balkans and central Europe the cemetery also came into use at about 5000 BC. LBK cemeteries contained from 20 to 200 graves arranged in groups that appear to have been based on kinship. Males and females of any age were included. Both cremation and inhumation were practiced. The inhumed were placed in flexed position in pits lined with stones, plaster or clay. Cemeteries were close to, but distinct from, residential areas.
The presence of grave goods indicates both a sex and a dominance discrimination. Male graves included stone celts, flint implements and money or jewelry of spondylus shells. Female graves contained many of the same artifacts as male graves, but also most of the pottery and containers of ochre. The goods have been interpreted as gifts to the departed or personal possessions.
Only about 30% of the graves have goods. This circumstance probably rightly has been interpreted as some sort of distinction in dominance, but the exact nature is not known. If the goods were gifts, then some were more honored than others; if they were possessions, then some were wealthier than others.